The Grand Balcons walks are the big brothers of the Petit Balcons previously described. These two higher altitude walks are amongst the most popular in the valley, offering some of the best and most easily accessed views of the surrounding mountain ranges. (Expect them to be pretty busy during July and August).
The Grand Balcon Nord: Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers (Route 1)
Skirting along the north side of the valley, both the access and departure points of this walk are served by the lift system.
Starting Point: Top of the Aiguille du Midi cable car station
From the top of the cable car station, descend to the Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille and then take the path going off horizontally to the right to La Tapia (not to Chamonix via Plan du Trois or Pre du Rocher). Once on this path, you can pretty much always see the route ahead meaning minimal opportunity to take a wrong turn. Don’t forget to take a break to admire the views of the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc which will always be behind you in this direction. Having passed the sign to the Chalets du Blaitière (and continued straight on), the next junction you come to will give you a choice of route. To the left is a shorter but very narrow path that leads to Montenvers across steep gullies which can be dangerous if snow covered. This route is not recommended if you have young children with you or if you are unsure of heights as the path drops away sharply in places. The better route to take (and the most scenic!) is the path that climbs up to the right to the Signal Forbes (2,198m). The additional effort is repaid in amazing views of Les Drus and the Mer de Glace that the other route does not offer. Once at the top, the path continues down to the Montenvers view point and the railway station.
The Grand Balcon Nord : Croix de Lognan to Le Lavancher (Route 2)
This is a lovely section of the Grand Balcon Nord that begins with a flat traverse through the ski area before dropping down through woodland and alpine meadows to the pretty village of Le Lavancher. Gravity is your friend the whole way!
Starting Point: Croix de Lognan (1,975m)
Start by taking the Grand Montets cable car up to the Croix de Lognan and then take the path on the right below the Bochard gondola and Marmottons chair lift. At the Chalet de Plan Joran (closed in summer) continue straight on past the base of the Plan Rougon chairlift and follow the path into some beautiful larch forests. When the route descends into a meadow beside the Chalets de la Pendant, you might want to take the time for a rest or a picnic – it’s a perfect spot with beautiful views of the Brevent and the Aiguilles Rouges! Continue down and at the signpost, follow the path that descends through the forest. At this point, if you fancy a bit of uphill you can take the route to le Chapeau via the Tête des Prapators which re-joins the main route further down and eventually brings you out at Le Lavancher. You can return to Chamonix by bus from the main road (RN 205) a short distance below Le Lavancher.
The Grand Balcon Sud
The Grand Balcon Sud takes you from the Col des Montets, beyond Argentiere, down to Les Houches, passing through the Aiguilles Rouges Nature Reserve for much of the way. One of the most popular sections runs between Flegere and Brevent Plan Praz, a fairly level traverse that will take around 2h.
Starting Point: Top of the Flegere cable car, Les Praz
On exiting the top station of the Flegere cable car, drop down below it to a path that leads off horizontally to the right from the small Refuge de la Flegere. Crossing a scree slope you can see the route ahead as far as the Alpage de la Charlanon (the liaison cable car between Charlanon and Flegere - only open in winter). Once across the meadow, you'll come to the bottom of the Charlanon ridge and then a small wood which brings you out above the Parsa Combe (Col Cornu chairlift). The path continues up to the Planpraz plateau from where you will see the cable car and gondola stations below you. Doing the route in this direction gives you the best views of Mont Blanc and the Aiguilles de Chamonix, although it is equally popular to do it the other way and the gradient is ever so slightly in your favour!
IGN3630 map is recommended